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Genocide: regimes of pardon

Génocide : régimes du pardon

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Published on Wednesday, September 04, 2013 by Elsa Zotian


Réfléchir sur le pardon dans le contexte d’un génocide revient à penser l'impossibilité de l'acte même de pardonner et à reposer la question de la responsabilité du crime qui, au-delà de son caractère « étatique » est autant collectif qu’individuel. Comment envisager le pardon dans cet imbroglio de responsabilités ? Qui pardonne, à qui et quelles sont les modalités de ce pardon, s’il est envisageable ? Est-il une nécessité ou une possibilité, un droit ou un devoir, un acquit ou un mérite? C’est pour répondre à ces questions qu’est né le thème de ce colloque, inspiré par les rencontres qui lui ont précédé : après avoir réfléchi sur le témoignage, la mémoire, le tiers et le témoin second, et la justice, le pardon arrive bien à propos pour poursuivre les débats sur le génocide et sa gestion. Si pardonner c’est remonter dans le passé de la faute pour rouvrir la blessure afin de mieux la panser, est-il possible de pardonner sans « banaliser le mal », sans rendre possible sa résurgence ?





Forgiveness crosses time, from ancient times to the present, to question the relationship to the wrongdoing. The wrongdoing, which is also a flaw, a failure and a deviation from righteousness, marks a point of rupture between the good and the evil, the past and the future. According to Jacques Darriulat (1996), forgiveness cannot be taken for granted whenever a fault is committed; it should rather be considered as  an event whose occurrence transcends the first agents to become a founding act of a new order: “forgiveness, he says, depends neither on an arbitrary decision of the offended nor on a simple request of the offender. In this sense, it is not in my power to grant forgiveness, as it is […] not in my power to obtain it. Such is the mystery of forgiveness: what does it depend on, if it depends neither on the only will of the offended nor on that of the offender?

This question arouses another, not less important: how can forgiveness be understood, what are its place and function in the relationships disrupted by the wrongdoing? For Hannah Arendt (2006), “forgiveness is certainly one of the greatest human faculties and perhaps the most audacious of the actions, insofar as it attempts the impossible - namely to undo what was done - and succeeds in inaugurating a new beginning where everything seemed to have come to an end”. From this point of view, forgiveness goes beyond the limits of human nature which is prone to vengeance and resentment. The Greek tragedy envisioned this by resorting to a divine third party to restore the broken relationship. Christ himself confirms it when He exclaims: “Father, forgive them…” (Darriulat, 1996). According to its etymology, forgiveness is a superhuman act, an event in human life that is neither a right nor merit or duty. It is a supreme gift, beyond the power of both the offended and the offender, a sacrificial gift through which the offended and the offender “let go” in order to free the time and allow the emergence of a new citizen cleaned off the stain of the offence committed and experienced.

But in the context of a genocide, is forgiveness still relevant? A genocide is a crime of incommensurable dimensions, which not only disrupts, but destroys the order, as well as the social, political and moral norms. A genocide becomes possible only because the law has been annihilated, and, with it, the citizen whom it is supposed to defend and to protect. In this regard, Claudia Hilb (2011) asks an interesting question: “How can a community be reconstructed after [such] a crime”? Depending on contexts and socio-political frameworks, judging, punishing, amnestying, erasing, forgetting, “turning the page”, etc. are the many possible avenues. And also forgiving, as seem to suggest the supporters of the restorative justice. Jankélévitch (1986) observed one day, not without indignation: “Forgiveness! Did they ever ask us for forgiveness? Only the distress and dereliction of the culprit would give to forgiveness a sense and a reason to be. When the culpritis fat, well nourished, prosperous, enriched by the “economic miracle”, forgiveness is a sinister joke. No, forgiveness is not made for pigs and their sows. Forgiveness died in the death camps.” This impossible forgiveness also appears in Primo Levi's works, and in other Holocaust survivors’ as in philosophers’ such as Paul Ricœur (2000) and Jacques Derrida (2005), etc.

Reflecting upon forgiveness in the context of a genocide thus amounts to thinking about this impossibility, and to asking again the question of responsibility for the crime which, besides being a crime committed by a “State”, is also as much collective as individual. Consequently, how should forgiveness be considered in this imbroglio of responsibilities? Who forgives whom and what forms does this forgiveness take, if at all possible? Is it a need or a possibility, a right or a duty, a benefit or a merit?

It is to answer these questions that the topic for this conference is born, inspired by the previous conferences. After examining the “testimonial”, the “memory”, the “third party” and the “justice”, forgiveness is in line to continue reflecting on genocide and its management. If forgiving implies going back in the past of the wrongdoing to reopen the wound in order to better bandage it, is it possible to forgive without “banalizing the evil”, thus opening the way for its possible resurgence? The complexity of the question implies a multi-field framework to better approach the issues and challenges of forgiveness in the context of the crime of genocide. Contributions inspired by philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion, literature, art, cinema, politics, education, law, etc., are all welcome. Contributions may answer, but are not limited to the following questions:

  • In a genocidal context, how do we to think about responsibilities to better consider forgiveness? In other words, who forgives whom?
  • What are the forms, conditions and limits of forgiveness?
  • Can one forgive in the name of the dead, the absolutely offended from whom forgiveness could have a meaning?
  • What can one learn from the various attempts to repair the social fabric torn by the genocidal madness?
  • Can one/must one force, encourage, allow, and/or facilitate forgiveness?
  • Can one refuse to forgive or benefit from forgiveness? What would be the reasons (Nadler & Liviatan, 2004)?
  • What connection can exist between forgiveness and justice, forgiveness and memory?
  • Can collective memory be an obstacle to forgiveness, that is, to any possibility of mending the social fabric? How does one analyze/understand the psychosocial dynamics around the victimisation and the making guilty when it comes to forgiveness and repentance (Iyer, Leach and Crosby, 2004)?
  • How do art and literature represent or stage the question of forgiveness in a genocidal context?

Submission guidelines

Please send your proposals (250 words maximum) in French or English including your name, electronic address and institutional affiliation (if necessary) to one of the following addresses:

Abstract's submission: November 1st 2013

Acceptance notification: November 30th 2013

Conference - Trent University: May 9-11th, 2014

Registration fee: 60 $ CAD

Selected papers will be published.

Scientific Committee

  • Eugénia Dos Santos, McMaster University,
  • Eugène Nshimiyimana, McMaster University;
  • Catalina Sagarra, Trent University;
  • Josias Semujanga, Université de Montréal;
  • Jacques Walter, Université de Metz.


  • Trent University
    Oshawa, Canada


  • Tuesday, November 05, 2013


  • génocide, pardon, responsabilités, victimes, génocidaires, crime


  • Eugène Nshimiyimana
    courriel : nsheug [at] mcmaster [dot] ca
  • Catalina Catalina Sagarra
    courriel : catalinasagarra [at] yahoo [dot] ca
  • Eugénia Dos Santos
    courriel : esantos [at] mcmaster [dot] ca

Information source

  • Catalina Sagarra
    courriel : catalinasagarra [at] trentu [dot] ca

To cite this announcement

« Genocide: regimes of pardon », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, September 04, 2013, https://calenda.org/258202

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